VR Party League and VR Sports Network collaborate to provide a unique experience for athletes in virtual sports who want to participate in challenging team-based games such as Ready At Dawn’s Echo Arena. With emphasis on community, training, and a handicap system that allows teams of different skill levels to play together, the alliance creates opportunities for players and teams that reflect continued growth of the VR esports industry overall as VR Party League announces Echo Arena Season 1 with broadcast coverage to be provided by VR Sports Network.
Some people question the legitimacy of using the word “sport” to describe a computer game, but the fact is that many VR games require a great amount of skill and physical exertion in a competitive environment. If someone described many single-player or team-based VR games, but left out the fact that they’re played in immersive environments, most people would readily agree that they fit the definition of a sport. The fact that the games are played with a headset and players are connected virtually make them no less engaging, physically challenging, or competitive.
Echo Arena is widely recognized as the first true sport in virtual reality. In the fast-paced zero-gravity game from Ready At Dawn and Oculus Studios, opposing teams boost through a virtual arena as they attempt avoid having the disc stolen or being stunned before they manage to score on the other team’s goal. The game has been compared to traditional sports like soccer or ultimate frisbee except that Echo Arena is accessible through a VR headset such as the Oculus Quest 2 versus walking to the local gym or sport park.
VR Party League
The first competitive league for Echo Arena was announced in the summer of 2017 as a collaboration between Oculus, ESL, and Intel. Since then, the popular virtual sport has gained an enthusiastic playerbase around the world and has received accolades such as VR Fitness Insider’s Best VR Competitive Fitness Game of the Year and “Immersive Reality Game of the Year” and “Immersive Reality Technical Achievement” at the D.I.C.E. Awards.
In the summer of 2020, VR Party League (VRPL) began as a small Facebook group when Dewey Blankenship, owner and tournament director of VRPL set out to connect the more casual “family” gamers with a focus on fun (hence the party name). A 30-year-old father of five from the St. Louis, Missouri area, Blankenship understands very well the challenges of wanting to play competitively while also balancing a job and other life responsibilities.
Blankenship had a keen interest in VR gaming so he followed news of the Rift and other headsets. He almost purchased a PSVR, but decided it wasn’t quite what he wanted. He found what he was looking for with the release of the original Oculus Quest in May 2019.
Although he initially had some negative experiences, he began to make friends and formed a team to compete in the VR Master League, a community-driven league that features several prominent VR games including Echo Arena.
“I quickly realized there was a huge gap in the Echo Arena scene for casual players that can only play a day or two a week, but who still wanted that community feel,” he states. “The team/community aspect is what really drives Echo for me. The synergy, the no-look passes, and the random full court shots. It’s a blast!”
Blankenship started the VR Party League Facebook group as an offshoot from the main Echo Community Facebook group, then launched a Discord channel and began hosting events.
“Since then we’ve expanded to a VR gaming community,” he says. “We try to help connect players and communities together from many VR games including Echo Arena, Beat Saber, Population: One, Gorilla Tag, and we’re always looking for upcoming games as well!”
VR Sports Network
As the VR Party League began to grow, it became obvious to Blankenship and others that there was a gap in broadcasting for VR gaming. Blankenship partnered with fellow gamers Kurt Stammberger and Tony Cartwright to form the VR Sports Network (VRSN), an online broadcast agency committed to positive, professional coverage of VR sports.
“There are a significant number of esports and VR sport streaming events on Twitch and YouTube with tens of thousands of viewers,” explains Stammberger.
“Many of the games are competitive, but are not actually physically athletic like Echo Arena is. We wanted to focus our broadcasts on games that are athletic and team-based,” he continues, adding that the target audience of current streamers is gaming fans rather than sports fans.
VR Sports Network’s unique defining factor is that they focus on appealing to sports fans in addition to gamers and they’re committed to building this audience from the ground up through features such as on-air commentators, analysts, highlights of the week’s matches, and more. Content is delivered through existing stream services such as Twitch and YouTube.
“Echo Arena has changed the landscape of VR esports with the first truly new, yet recognizable team sport in the VR domain,” states Stammberger, adding that VRSN will encourage germination of teams representing specific identities such as Armed Forces, Rotary, LGBTQ, company teams, etc. “We believe personal and professional affiliations will translate into bigger, more enthusiastic, and loyal fan bases.”
Watch VRSN broadcasts and follow their news on social media.
VRPL Echo Arena Season 1
Building on the growth of the community overall as well as the popularity of their previous events that included a 3v3 tournament, a 4v4 admin draft, and a 2v2 event, the VR Party League is launching VRPL Echo Arena Season 1 on May 15 for North American teams.
Registration: Open now on the VR Party League Discord server
Season Begins: May 15
Prize Pool: Over $750 in cash and prizes
Teams of all skill levels are invited to participate in VR Party League Echo Arena Season 1 as it will implement the LevelField handicap system, a copyrighted and patent-pending technology that encourages lower-level team captains to seek out games against higher skilled teams so they can compete in an environment where they have the potential to learn new skills without being crushed or losing morale.
The VR Party League developed LevelField handicap system in partnership with VR Sports Network that received near-universal approval thus far from both lower-skilled and higher-skilled teams.
Due to ping restrictions and a desire to focus on responsible growth, season 1 is open only to teams in North America, but it’s anticipated that the league will expand to other areas in the future.
Join the VR Party League Community
One of the best ways to become involved in competitive VR gaming is to actively engage with other players in a community that appeals to you. VR Party League can be found on social media and they’re also part of VR Community Builders, a non-profit organization dedicated to positive, inclusive environments. Meet fellow Echo players, find a team for VR Party League, ask questions, and learn more about Echo VR and VR Party League through the following links.